PhD candidate leaves dissertation defense with black eye, bruises

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Pictured above the room in which dissertation defenses take place at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park bears striking aesthetic similarities to a taekwondo dojo.

Written by Annmary W. F. Shelley, Staff Writer.

Hyde Park, Chicago, IL–Hubert Liam Heidecker, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park (a highly elite research university located in a historically bad neighborhood), has for the past several semesters been marshaling a dissertation on the “erotics of Susan Sontag’s poetics and art.”

He has visited the university’s writing center and worked with several of the center’s highly trained consultants, in what he described as “ideal sessions”: “The consultants at the writing center moved beyond the sentence-level to actually test me on the concepts within my dissertation, to make sure the work within was presented as cogently as possible” said Heidecker, adding: “It was great defense prep! I am proudest of my dissertation having visited the center, and I accept full ownership of my manuscript! My disposition toward my own scholarship has completely changed!”

Well prepared to present on his dissertation findings as well as his process, Heidecker prepared a 25-minute talk anticipating his brilliant-minded 4-person committee’s questions taking a few “presumably very grueling, exceedingly intense” hours, the committee of trained experts acting as “gatekeepers of knowledge, silently calculating, conferring amongst each other by exchanged glances, furrowed eyebrows, and later private meeting, during which they’d discuss whether or not I will be known as ‘Doctor Hubert Liam Heidecker,’ or whether I must live out the rest of my days as merely ‘Mister Heidecker.'”

The committee caught Heidecker off-guard, and he claimed he “never would have guessed what would follow as I entered that menacing defense room.” As the doorknob turned, and he pulled it open, he found each member of his committee dressed in karategi (the attire typically worn while practicing martial arts) as well as protective sparring head-wear, chest-pads, and and gloves.

Heidecker, himself dressed in formal wear and an academic gown, shut the door behind him–his own eyebrow beginning to furrow as he entered in ignorance–and asked,”hey, what’s going on?”

“All right, let’s go!” shouted Heidecker’s dissertation chairperson, Doctor Emily Gorowski. “Come on, throw up your guns. Show us what you’ve got!”

Before Heidecker could offer a confused reply, Gorowski sucker-punched him in the jaw. One of his readers, Doctor Tim Binder, a specialist in Modernist poetry, stealthy barrel rolled behind Heidecker, jumped to his feet, and punched Heidecker in the back of the head, with triumphant exclamation: “Chapter 4 is full of holes! Explain yourself!”

Heidecker, grabbing at a newly forming bump on the back of his head, in shock, looked around the room helplessly at his charging committee of physically confrontational professors. “Come on, you heard him, Heidecker, you intellectual lightweight! Defend your dissertation!” shouted back Gorowski, taunting her mentee with strangely reminiscent behavior of the rigid gym teacher he thought he left behind his senior year of high school, who’d make the uncoordinated academic elite run laps while throwing out insults about his “questionable sexuality.” But Heidecker finally snapped, firing off a surprisingly impressing left hook which “knocked Bender on his ass.”

At the conclusion of the “defense,” Gorowski, along with his other committee members, congratulated him as “Doctor Heidecker, each offering the lifelong student a handshake while he considered the Twilight Zone-like wonder that had just taken place in the name of his dissertation defense. “It was wild,” Heidecker remarked later, icing a black eye with a bag of frozen peas. “But now that I think of it, I do recall seeing a surprising amount of fellow grads the victims of bizarre muggings I took to be bad luck as well as the nature of living in Hyde Park. I guess it was somewhat ritualistic of our department, though.”

The young man looks forward to starting a career as an academician at Notre Dame starting in the fall, where he can’t wait to return the academic, ritualistic hazing to his first mentee.


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Anmary W. F. Shelley is a professor of Derrida at a small liberal arts college in Iowa.

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